Howie George gets emotional when talking about the state of the Cowichan River.
“It’s really sad. It’s very sad because this is it, this is our bloodline,” the Duncan resident and excavating company owner told Global News.
Tired of seeing garbage, including used needles, polluting the waterway local First Nations rely on for a food fishery, George spearheaded a community clean-up fueled by volunteers.
“The Cowichan River is the lifeblood of the Cowichan people. It’s been used for food and transportation and everything for thousands of years,” added volunteer and Cowichan Valley resident Riley McIntosh.
“It’s overwhelming…to see the needles and paraphernalia in the water is scary because that does go down, the fish take it,” said George.
On Thursday Oct. 11, their grassroots effort saw more than 1,000 needles collected from the Cowichan River and shoreline, where members of the homeless community have set up camp.
“I think it’s really sad to see that much garbage like right in the river. It’s a really unfortunate, unhealthy situation,” said McIntosh.
The disturbing tally of rigs volunteers collected was turned over to the local sharps pick-up program — which has seen the demand for its services spike as the fentanyl epidemic takes its toll.
“At the present it’s just exploded with the opioid crisis,” said Dave Ehle of the Warmland Sharps Pick Up Program, an initiative run by the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Cowichan Valley Branch.
“From the beginning of 2018 we have picked up almost 24,000 needles.”
August 2018 saw more than 4,400 needles picked up, and September yielded close to 7,000.
While George and McIntosh understand many of the homeless campers along the Cowichan River have nowhere else to go, they want the waterway to be respected.
“The bottom line is let’s keep the garbage out of the river,” said McIntosh.
“The water’s our playground, especially for innocent children,” added George.